AOL Changing Dynamics of Social Networks

AOL recently announced that they are officially opening up their immensely popular instant messaging platform to the developer community and enabling a new generation of AIM-powered IM clients/services. According to Kevin Conroy, executive vice president of AOL Media Networks:

The next wave of opportunities will come as a result of allowing developers to innovate. AIM is the original social network. We’re looking for ways for consumers to be able to extend their social networks via an already popular platform.

This is an absolutely brilliant position and pretty damn significant. AOL Instant Messenger boasts a community of 63M users. That is more users than the wildly popular – and closed – social network, mySpace, which currently has 56M users. By integrating IM functionality with other online services (blogging, photo sharing, mapping, etc) developers can create a host of powerful, cross-functional, services that leverage and extend the power of their existing social networks. More significantly, perhaps, is that if AOL can manage to become the de facto instant messaging/social network on the emerging service-oriented web, they will have scored a big win.

There are a couple catches however, that will have to be addressed over time. Most notably, the AIM Developer FAQ states:

Developers are not permitted to build Custom Clients that are multi-headed (I think they meant threaded) or interoperable with any other IM network.

That requirement is no footnote and means that – for now – we still not at the point where we can easily exchange instant messages across the major networks. Suffice to say, that is a huge impediment to developing a truly pervasive and ubiquitous computing environment. Also, I wonder how this will affect folks like Meebo and their competition.

Although there is still a ways to go, this move will undoubtedly herald the beginning of a more open social software space. Incumbent social network services such as Friendster and LinkedIn will be forced to reconsider their current “closed” positions and maybe even gradually open up as a result of increased competitive pressures. Those services that desperately hang on to the Web 1.0 “do-it-yourself” mentality, however, will probably go the way of their dot-com predecessors – buhbyes.

Regardless, I am impressed that the folks at AOL are moving in this direction and am truly excited to watch the dynamics of the social software space change in response to the announcement.

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hoomanradfar Written by:

  • Anonymous

    We’ve been working with AIM since last fall on integration, so no need to fear that LinkedIn will be an island 🙂

    See:
    http://www.webpronews.com/news/ebusinessnews/wpn-45-20051006FourCommunitiesGettingAnAIMPresence.html

    -Konstantin
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/konstantin

  • Hooman

    Konstantin, thanks for the link. I think that it is fantastic that LinkedIn is moving towards a more open service position. That being said, however, I still think that the social networking services have a ways to go with respect to becoming truly open platforms online.

    As a software developer and CEO of a company that leverages multiple web services to deliver value, I have found that most social network services are still miles behind other online service providers with respect to their developer extensibility. Social Networking is no longer a feature, it is a requirement. If I cannot leverage your service, or another service, as a basis for powering the social aspect of my software, my alternatives are: (1) to create my own network or (2) go somewhere else. Right now, it seems that AOL is the most developer-friendly social network. Consequently, that is where we have most heavily focused our efforts.

    Social Networks are currently being underutilized. Service providers create isolated networks that are only actionable within the context of a particular service (jobs, dating, shopping, etc.). As the web continues to grow up, so will Social Networks. The more pervasive social networks become in our computing experience, the more competition will arise for the status of “the” dominant social network. IMHO, that position can only be won by the player that opens their network up to the world. It is not an easy position, but is probably the highest yield “long run” position for those services that want to rise to Google-like status in time.

    I would love to continue the discussion offline. The focus of my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon was social networks/multi-agent systems and I absolutely am fascinated with the development of social software.

    As an aside, I want you to know that LinkedIn is by far the social networking service that I use most, despite having a gagillion accounts. We should “link-up!” Later.